Praying Before Mass

If you’ve ever leafed through a Catholic prayer book, you might have stumbled upon various prayers before Mass (see here or here for some examples).  At first glance, these kind of prayers might confirm some of the negative stereotypes about Catholicism—i.e. Catholics are so passive, isn’t Mass rote and repetitive enough? Just an obligation? Why tell people how to pray before Mass too?

But the idea of praying before Mass isn’t about blindly following the instructions in some prayer book. It actually points to the incredible and extraordinary level of participation, every baptized person has in the Mass.

In the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (aka Sacrosanctum Concilium), we read:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism (Para. 14).

This participation isn’t just an option, or something for the spiritual elite. It’s demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. What exactly might that mean?

Rev. Louis Bouyer (1913-2004) brings it into perspective. Participation is what it means to be the People of God. In Liturgical Piety, Bouyer explains that we (small and insignificant as each of us can seem!) are summoned by the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We then hear the Word proclaimed and respond, accepting God’s covenant, proclaimed anew every time we hear Scripture.

But a covenant is not ratified without a sacrificial offering. In the liturgy of the Mass our sacrifices—yes, our quiet struggles, our intentions, our hopelessness, and our whole selves—are united with Christ’s sacrifice on the altar.

Is this a big deal? Absolutely.

While it seems natural, almost instinctive, to desire to pray, such as before  a big presentation or  an exam, I’ll be the first to admit that taking the time to pray in preparation for participating in Mass isn’t usually at the top of my list.

But it should be.

This summer I’ll be trying more and more to always be intentional about preparing for the amazing act of praise, worship, and sacrifice that is our Catholic Mass. It’s my “right and duty” as a baptized child of God.

this post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.com

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Worth Chewing On: Points from Archbishop Chaput, O.F.M. on Renewing the Church

A thought-provoking and wonderfully challenging address from Archbishop Chaput, O.F.M. in Philadelphia. Given to clergy, but published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Here are my take-ways:

1. “Material health means nothing for a Church, unless it sets the stage for something more important:  renewing the heart and spirit”

It’s great that your parish/ministry has sustainable financial health. But is the material wealth enabling the conversion and transformation of individuals? Both those within and outside your parish walls?

2. “Our priests are admired and genuinely loved by our laypeople…On the other hand, a much lower number of parishioners see their parish as a welcoming place; or as spiritually healthy; or as offering strong homilies; or as having good financial management and transparency.”

Archbishop Chaput notes that there’s “no contradiction” in this data. And, I see what he means. Taking it a different direction, I think this points to a common problem in parish-life–low expectations. I’m certainly not saying that priests shouldn’t be genuinely loved! But, why is it that we are okay with pastors who do not lead in creating a spiritually healthy, welcoming parish, or a place with solid administration–or who at least can preach powerfully at Mass? Now the reaction to this isn’t to condemn pastor-priests, but maybe to ask ourselves as baptized believers, how are we enabling failed parish practices through silence? How might we step up and intervene? No pastor can do it alone!

As he writes later (echoing Russell Shaw), “If “Father,” in the person of the priest, always knows best, or thinks he knows best, then Father is always responsible for everything, and the spirit of a parish swings between adolescent piety and resentment. “

3. “The Church of most U.S. priests’ childhood — the parish life we all once fell in love with — is ending.  And it is not coming back, at least not in our lifetimes.”

Thank you, Archbishop Chaput, for plainly stating and acknowledging what can be a harsh and painful reality. We can’t change unless we feel a deep sense of urgency. And we’ll never feel urgency, if we don’t acknowledge reality.

4. “The Church will be very vulnerable to government interference in those of her ministries which fall outside of her core worship functions, such as her social service agencies and educational institutions.”

This is certainly true and has already impacted some branches of Catholic Charities with regards to adoption services. But, I think it’s a shift in funding structure that drives us more deeply to a renewal of giving as a spiritual discipline. The work of a disciple–to be personally responsible for the welfare of those around us, who we are compelled by Jesus Christ to love.

In 1945, Dorothy Day wrote, “We believe that social security legislation, now balled as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity… It is an acceptance of Cain’s statement…’Am I my brother’s keeper?'” She challenges us as Christians, “Certainly we all should know that it is not the province of the government to practice the works of mercy, or go in for insurance. Smaller bodies, decentralized groups, should be caring for all such needs” (The Catholic Worker, Feb 1945).

Faith-based social services have received subsidies and grants from the government now for decades. It’s a hard habit to break. But it’s not a right to expect the government to give us financial resources to live out our Christian calling to serve the poor, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc. It won’t be easy, but it means that all of us disciples will have to give of our wealth, material possessions, and time. Hmm…sounds a bit like Jesus’ Gospel messages.

5. ” in loving his people, a priest also needs to lead them to ‘own’ their lay vocation as full partners with equal dignity in the work of the Church.  And that involves much more than being a lector or usher or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion — as important as those tasks are.  It also means that committed laymen should not automatically need to become permanent deacons; although again, the permanent diaconate is a great gift to the Church.”

Amen. Without undercutting the permanent diaconate in any way, we can look around and see instances where we do, consciously or unconsciously, bias ourselves toward seeing a deacon as the only “non-priest” suitable for a specific role–when Church law allows otherwise. Leading funeral vigils/wake services, preaching at a communion service (i.e. Sunday Celebration in Absence of a Priest or Morning Prayer with Communion), or administering a parish come to mind…

The baptized faithful taking “co-responsibility” (as he calls for later, using the language of Pope Emeritus Benedict) is not something that requires a chance in our theology! Not at all. It does however require cultural change for the “rest of us” to respond to this as leaders and followers.

He exhorts his priests that this “means shaping real lay leaders.  If we’re not zealous, they won’t be.” And not only shaping, but enabling leaders. In Tools for Rebuilding, Fr. Michael White observes, “Everything in the [parish] culture insists that the priest be the center of attention, action, activity, and authority” (p. 270)–the only person with the capacity to change this is the pastor himself. With delegation and strong leadership, the pastor can set the right tone. Without that pastoral leadership, however, the culture will still say, “it’s all about Father.”

Archbishop Chaput summarizes this all, loudly and clearly with this final challenge:

“a renewal of spirit in the Church of Philadelphia, and elsewhere, depends not on money, or legacy, or buildings, or even a wonderful visit from the Pope — but on the ability of our priests and people to change the way Catholics think about the mandate and the privilege of baptism”

Yes! 🙂

Praying Exorcisms. Huh?

Contrary to popular Hollywood portrayals, the season of exorcisms isn’t centered on Halloween—it’s right now, happening at a parish near you, this Lent.

Even though I grew up going to Mass every Sunday, by the time I was in high school I still had no idea what was going on up there near the altar with all this “extra stuff” during Lent. All I knew was that it had something to do with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and it seemed to make Mass last longer (something people liked to complain about).

But, oh was I missing out! These extra prayers and fuss were all part of the period of purification and enlightenment for the elect—those preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil.

This period includes scrutinies, solemnly celebrated on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies, which include the rite of exorcism, are designed to aid in uncovering, and then healing, “all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect,” and at the same time strengthen and promote “all that is upright, strong, and good,” deepening the commitment of the elect to “hold fast to Christ and carry out their decision to love God above all” (RCIA, no. 141).

I know what you’re thinking (or at least what the high-school version of me would have been thinking), “That’s nice for the elect,” but what about me?

Here’s where our liturgy gets pretty awesome—Lent isn’t just about preparation for the reception of baptism, but also a time of spiritual recollection of our own baptism and participation in the paschal mystery.  Think of it as an annual, mini-retreat during Mass—a time to examine how each of us has been purified and enlightened by Jesus Christ’s saving power, over and over, as we experience deeper conversion throughout our years.

What might this look like, week-by-week? I offer the following suggestions, based on our Church’s rites to spur each of our recollections of our baptism and on-going conversion.

First Scrutiny (Third Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well (John 4:5-42)

Pray and Reflect:

  • When has the Lord, in his mercy and wisdom, touched my heart?
  • How have I drawn near to the fountain of living water, Jesus Christ?
  • Express gratitude for Christ the Living Water.

Second Scrutiny (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Healing of a man born blind (John 9:1-49)

Pray and Reflect:

  • What false values surround and blind me?
  • Am I allowing Christ to heal me?
  • Express gratitude for the Light of Christ.

Third Scrutiny (Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45)

Pray and Reflect:

  • Am I still walking in newness of life in Christ?
  • How am I stepping forth, alive from the tomb, showing the world the power of the risen Christ?
  • Express gratitude to Jesus Christ for defeating death.

This post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers

Are You a Prophet?

Throughout our lectionary readings at Mass during the month of December we hear of and from a lot of prophets. Isaiah, Zechariah, Elijah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Nathan, and even the New Testament prophets, John the Baptist and Anna.

These prophets span centuries, yet each serve a unique role pointing towards the Messiah, the Savior—Jesus the Christ. They declare the eternal promises of God, proclaim joy, preach a new turning towards God, spur others to reverence and worship for God, and more! It’s easy to think of prophets and prophecy as something of the past. Ancient history. Exciting, but part of a bygone era.

Yet as we journey toward the end of the Christmas season, the Church calls us to consider our own roles in Christ Jesus as true prophets.

This year on January 11, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ baptism. At this baptism in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus “in bodily form, as a dove” (Lk 3:22) and “remained on him” (Jn 1:32). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king” (CCC §783).

So where do we fit in?

The Catechism elaborates on what this means for us. First, “the whole People of God [that’s each and every one of us as disciples!] participates in these three offices of Christ.” This participation is more than just showing up. More than simply an option for those “really devout, really spiritual types.” Each of us “bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow” from the three offices of priest, prophet, and king (§783). Through our own baptisms, we participate in Christ’s prophetic office as prophets who deepen our understandings of the “supernatural sense of faith” and become “Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world” (§785).

In the context of settling a dispute among the Corinthians regarding the various spiritual gifts [=charisms] present in the community of believers, St. Paul gives some concrete examples. When we share in Christ’s prophetic office, it means we “speak to human beings, for their building up, encouragement, and solace” for the sake of building up the church (1 Cor 14:3-4). St. Paul proposes that if the whole local church is meeting in one place and “everyone is prophesying, and an unbeliever or uninstructed person should come in,” this new person will be convinced and ”fall down and worship God, declaring, ‘God is really in your midst’” (1 Cor 14:23-25).

Powerful stuff! Do you think of yourself as a prophet? Do you take action in sharing in Christ’s prophetic office?

Through baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit and empowered by God to be His prophets. Catholic theologian Yves Congar, O.P., summarized that prophecy allows us to “judge the times and the things that exist in time in the light of their truth in relation to the Absolute and to the end towards which they are directed.”

Our world needs prophets like us. Real individuals, with diverse personalities, and unique abilities to speak of the supernatural, to encourage and comfort, to build up the Church, and discern how to be true Christian witnesses in our times and places. God shares the gift of the prophetic office with us through Jesus Christ so that we can use it.

How will you speak a prophetic word to the world around you this coming year?

This post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.Com

“So be imitators of God, as beloved children…” Ephesians 5:1

This post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers.com.

“So be imitators of God, as beloved children…” Ephesians 5:1

Back in 2013, my husband and I were sitting around trying to decide on a Scripture verse to have printed on the back of the icon cards we gave out as birth announcements for our new infant son. At first we played around with lines from Biblical authors and characters related to our son’s name, and nothing struck us as quite right.

Then my husband suggested Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Seeing as how it had exactly the right number of characters to fit in the allotted space (these things matter when designing cards!) and struck the right balance of sharing part of the core message of Christianity (we are God’s beloved children) without being too theological for the un-evangelized, we picked it.

Back then, I completely glazed over the exhortation to be imitators. Probably because it seems a bit ridiculous. Or at least outside of the possible. I never imagine myself imitating God. I mean, how silly, right? I’m not omnipotent or all-knowing. I can’t operate outside of the laws of nature. Where do you even start with trying to imitate God?

But now, with our son a little over a year old, I finally get it. Like many young toddlers, our son tries to imitate my husband and I as much as possible. He picks up an adult-sized toothbrush and wiggles it around in his mouth. He picks up empty coffee mugs and makes a loud lapping sound as he drinks from them. And he’s very pleased with his ability to imitate. For him it’s not pretending to drink from the coffee mug, he really thinks he’s doing the same thing that we are. And, most amusingly, when he’s crying and gets picked up by my husband or I to be comforted, he begins to pat either one of us on our back as if to console the person who is comforting him.

Our son’s actions demonstrate that imitation isn’t about starting out with perfection. Imitation isn’t an all or nothing pursuit–instead it comes gradually. As a toddler, our son has no idea that there should be some liquid in a mug in order for him to “use” the mug like we do. He’s not remotely capable of doing everything that my husband and I can, but he tries anyway. Imitating the smallest details, even without understanding the big picture.

And our imitation of God, as God’s beloved children is the same way. If we read on in Ephesians, the author continues “and, live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (vs 2). Can I hand myself over in a sacrificial death as Christ did? No. But, I can “live in love” for others, starting with the smallest details. I can imitate God every way possible, even though I know that ultimately I’ll fall short. I can imitate acts of love, even when–like my toddler son–I don’t understand the big picture, the depths of God’s love.

Being a beloved child is both an image of how God loves us, and a clue as to how it’s possible for us to imitate God’s love. No matter how incremental our attempts may be, God delights when we respond to the love of Christ with our own attempts to replicate it in the world.

Not enough seats at the Easter Vigil? Maybe Add Baptismal Vespers

One of the parishes near me has the glorious problem (but a problem, nonetheless) of not having enough seating for all who want to attend the Easter Vigil. Now first off, I want to say that this is a good problem to have. 🙂 The Easter Vigil is amazing, an awe-inspiring celebration of salvation history and the grace of our salvation in the here and now. It’s sad that in so many parishes it’s not greeted with as much enthusiasm.

But alas, due to the large number of people being baptized at the Vigil at this parish, seating is particularly tough. Seating officially opens one hour before the start of the Vigil and fills up quickly.

Over at PrayTell, I just learned about the idea of a Baptismal Vespers service:

a Vespers service “in which baptism is commemorated by a procession with hymns and prayers to the place where baptisms take place.”

Now this could be a practical way of allowing more of the parish community to participate in the celebration and welcome of the newly Baptized, when the # of seats in the sanctuary simply doesn’t allow all who’d like to be there, to attend. It provides another opportunity for some parish feasting to accentuate the glorious celebration of the Octave of Easter. In many parishes, the uptick in activity during Lent/Holy Week (in terms of liturgy, faith formation, extra communal prayer services, etc.) gives way to this sense of nothingness during the Octave of Easter–but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!

In short, Baptismal Vespers might be a great option for parishes looking for a way to extend the celebration of Baptism beyond the Easter Vigil. Plus, it’s a good step towards introducing (more widely) the Liturgy of the Hours into parish life.

Infant Catechumenate….a Possibility for the New Evangelization?

Dr. Edward Peters makes this insightful comment regarding recent media attention on Pope Francis’ celebration of the sacrament of baptism:

“Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?”

Indeed. Pastorally problematic.

But it doesn’t have to be. In The Shape of Baptism, Aidan Kavanagh, O.S.B. writes:

“In the context of tradition’s witness concerning the unity of the initiatory sequence….compels one to the following conclusion. Whenever it is deemed advisable to initiate a Christian, regardless of age, that Christian should be initiated fully and completely by water baptism, the ‘sealing’ of confirmation, and first eucharistic communion.

This should hold for everyone, although it may be found pastorally more advantageous to begin the sequence of baptism in its fullness so far as infants and very young children are concerned with solemn enrollment in the catechumenate followed by the sacraments of initiation in full sequence later at some appropriate time.

To do this is not to ‘delay baptism.’ It is to begin baptism in its fullness as soon after birth as practicable, and to celebrate its stages over a period of years according to the child’s growth in faith, rather than to telescope the sacraments of initiation into a few minutes or dismember the sacramental sequence altogether” (p. 175).

Basically, he’s suggesting an infant catechumenate. Any infant could be enrolled, no canonical worries. It offers a solemn ritual, important for the parents and community’s understanding. But, it allows the all important sacraments of initiation to be delayed until the child/family is able to participate in faith. Taking this option would surely reduce the number of baptisms out of culture that are devoid of the critical aspect of faith (within the baptized or the family).

It also creates an option from within our Church’s tradition for families who would prefer that children be initiated fully, in the historical sequence. Can we handle liturgical diversity, rather than a one-size-fits all approach? I think the tradition of our Church upholds both the theology inherent in infant baptism and the theology inherent in a unified initiation process of a “professing” believer. Another great both/and of Catholicism 😉

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s possible for a parish to have so many options?